M3GAN Review – Blumhouse’s New Killer Doll Aims to Entertain
Bloody Disgusting’s M3GAN review is spoiler-free.
From the moment M3GAN was introduced in trailers and danced her way into the internet’s collective hearts, the high-tech killer doll seemed destined for horror icon status. It helped that M3GAN reunited producer James Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper, both responsible for 2021’s highly entertaining Malignant, and put Housebound’s Gerard Johnstone at the helm. The horror-comedy does live up to its promise to entertain, but with a heavy emphasis on humor and less on horror.
Top roboticist/developer Gemma (Allison Williams) stresses over a looming toy deadline at her company while secretly working on a passion project in the form of Model 3 Generative Android, which she dubs M3GAN to keep it simple. Then an unexpected accident claims the lives of her sister and brother-in-law, leaving her the sole guardian to young niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Ill-equipped to raise a grieving child, workaholic Gemma combines her work and home life by pairing Cady with M3GAN, a lifelike companion who can react and learn. What should be a winsome solution that makes Cady a happy beta tester and get Gemma’s boss (Ronny Chieng) off Gemma’s back becomes anything but.
M3GAN quickly develops a mind of her own, which comes at a lethal toll.
Despite the initial setup that places Cady in Gemma’s life and the subsequent guardian struggles that ensue, M3GAN refreshingly forgoes the trauma path in favor of skewering capitalism and the corporate world. Cooper’s screenplay frames the narrative through Gemma’s eyes as she navigates the corporate pressures placed upon her by a high-strung boss, his skittish assistant (Stephane Garneau-Monten), and the ethics of her creation with colleagues Cole (Brian Jordan Alvarez) and Tess (Jan Van Epps). That pulls her focus away from Cady, giving her sentient product ample room to develop beyond her wildest dreams and nightmares.
M3GAN handles this with all the comedic wit and meme-worthy humor you’d expect based on the talent involved. It’s less about a newly orphaned girl and more about the absurdity of M3GAN’s existence and the desire to sell her as the hottest new toy despite fully knowing what kind of monster is on their hands. The more M3GAN evolves, the more entertaining she becomes as she acts less like her doll counterparts and more like Single White Female by way of Terminator.
The eponymous character gets brought to life through impressive effects by Adrien Morot and Kathy Tse, Amie Donald’s uncanny physical performance, and Jenna Davis’s haunting voicework. She exudes menace through facial expressions and jerky movements that trigger that unsettling uncanny valley. This is M3GAN’s movie, and she more than earns it through an immensely talented team. She’s aided by a sympathetic turn from Williams, who successfully prevents Gemma from losing rooting interest despite fumbling hard with Cady. McGraw holds her own against her AI scene-stealer, no small feat considering the nuanced stages of grief she cycles.
Much like its killer star, M3GAN seems more destined to resonate with a younger audience. The doll’s danger escalates in a very measured way, slowing the pacing and minimizing the body count. That pacing makes the foreshadowing all the easier to pick up, ensuring the story’s trajectory is well-telegraphed. Save for a few jump scares, there’s an overt restraint with the horror. The PG-13 rating also dampens what kills we do get. Those looking for the unexpected likely won’t find it here, though that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Entertainment is the sole aim here, and on that, M3GAN delivers. The memes are only getting started. Of course, that feels par for the course with the creative minds involved. Fittingly, M3GAN also takes place in the Pacific Northwest, practically in Malignant’s backyard, begging the question of whether Cooper and Wan are slyly creating an anything-goes horror universe. If they keep introducing wild horror villains like Gabriel and M3GAN, the more, the merrier. M3GAN may not go quite as hard as Gabriel, but she doesn’t have to: she possesses a broader mainstream appeal that’ll land her at the top of the hottest toys list this year.
M3GAN dances and sings her way into theaters on January 6, 2023.
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